Single page Print

A trio of PCI Express graphics cards compared

If you need mid-range PCI-E graphics now

ALTHOUGH THE FIRST wave of GeForce 6600 series reviews have already hit the web, cards based on NVIDIA's latest mid-range PCI Express offering may not be available in volume until sometime next month. Rumors are also swirling that ATI will introduce a mid-range Radeon X700 PCI Express card to counter the 6600 series, but there's no telling when cards based on that unannounced graphics chip could arrive. If you're in the market for a mid-range PCI Express graphics card and can afford to wait a month or two, you'll probably end up deciding between variations of the GeForce 6600 or Radeon X700.

But what if you need a mid-range PCI Express graphics card today?

You have a couple of options: ATI's Radeon X600 XT and NVIDIA's GeForce PCX 5900, derived from these companies' respective AGP offerings, the Radeon 9600 XT and GeForce FX 5900. Both of these PCI-E cards are available for around $200, and we've rounded up a trio of cards from Abit, Albatron, and Gigabyte to determine which is worthy of your new motherboard's PCI Express x16 graphics slot.

A trio of PCI Express graphics cards

Comparing the cards
Before I delve into the details of each card individually, let's take a moment to compare some important metrics.

GPU Core clock (MHz) Memory clock (MHz) Memory type Memory size (MB) Video outputs Warranty period Street price
Abit RX600XT-PCIE ATI RV380 513 742 DDR 128 DVI, VGA, S-Video 15 months* $181
Albatron Trinity PCX5900 NVIDIA NV35 350 550 DDR 128 DVI, VGA, S-Video 3 years labor, 1 year parts $215
Gigabyte GV-RX60X128V ATI RV380 500 742 DDR 128 DVI, VGA, S-Video 2 years $190

The RX600XT-PCIE and GV-RX60X128V are both based on ATI's RV380 GPU, while Albatron's Trinity PCX5900 uses NVIDIA's NV35 graphics chip. Unlike RV380, which is a native PCI Express chip, NV35 was built with AGP in mind. NV35 must be paired with NVIDIA's High Speed Interconnect (HSI) bridge chip in order to interface with a PCI Express x16 graphics slot, and there's been much discussion of whether that's an adequate implementation. At least as far as today's applications are concerned, it's unlikely that ATI's native PCI Express implementation will offer tangible performance benefits over NVIDIA's HSI bridge chip.

PCI Express implementations aside, the RX600XT-PCIE, GV-RX60X128V, and Trinity PCX5900 also differ in their pixel pipeline configurations, memory bus widths, and clock speeds. Here's how fill rates and memory bandwidth pan out in our trusty chip chart:

Core clock (MHz) Pixel pipelines Peak fill rate (Mpixels/s) Texture units per pixel pipeline Peak fill rate (Mtexels/s) Memory clock (MHz) Memory bus width (bits) Peak memory bandwidth (GB/s)
Gigabyte GV-RX60X128V 500 4 2000 1 2000 742 128 11.9
Abit RX600XT-PCIE 513 4 2052 1 2052 742 128 11.9
Albatron Trinity PCX5900 350 4 1400 2 2800 550 256 17.6

Although the Radeon X600 XT cards' higher core clock speeds yield better single-texturing fill rates than the Trinity PCX5900, NV35's 4x2-pipe configuration offers a higher peak multi-texturing fill rate. The Radeon X600 XT-based cards also have higher memory clock speeds, but they're only running on a 128-bit memory bus. The Trinity PCX5900 enjoys a wider 256-bit path to memory, allowing it significantly more memory bandwidth with lower clock speeds.

Also note that the RX600XT-PCIE has a slightly higher core clock speed than the GV-RX60X128V. More on that in a moment.